BYU is set to play game one of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic tonight against Florida State. We turned to Matt Minnick of Tomahawk Nation for a little question-and-answer session to help us learn a little more about the Seminoles.
1. Florida State has been known for its tough defense. What is coach Leonard Hamilton's defensive philosophy, and what looks will BYU see when on offense?
Coach Hamilton prides himself on playing tough, aggressive man-to-man defense. But it's not just any old man, it's really a "help-man" defense with complicated principles that he has perfected over the years. (For a full breakdown check out this article from last year by our own Michael Rogner: Breaking Down FSU's D)
The short version of it is FSU likes to extend pressure out beyond the three-point line and front the post as much as possible. At the same time, players are often expected to help and recover on screens as opposed to switching to try to avoid mismatches. Finally, Hamilton loves to have his bigs in position to rotate and get backside blocks, which often leads to guys giving up rebounding position if they can get a block. All of this results in a defensive system that frustrates opposing offenses and forces them to either be patient and use the entire shot clock and still end up with a so-so look, or try to do to much and often turn the ball over.
The system requires athletic, long players and when executed properly can devastate opponents who aren't ready for it, as evidenced by FSU finishing with a top 15 defense according to efficiency ratings in each of the last 4 seasons--including #1 in 2010 and 2011. However, right now it isn't anywhere close to those levels. The new guys are still learning the principles and the returning players are trying too hard to make up for their mistakes. FSU has led the ACC in FG% defense the last 3 years, but this year [two opponents] have shot 42% and 50% respectively from the field.
2. Losses from last year's roster include guard Luke Loucks and big man Bernard James. Through two games, what (if anything) does FSU seem to be missing from their games, and what newcomers are stepping in to fill the void?
By far the biggest loss has been felt underneath on defense. Bernard James provided a shot blocking presence that FSU just doesn't have right now. With him in the lineup, guards knew they had an eraser back there to makeup for any mistakes they made--which allowed them to take more chances and be more aggressive in the passing lanes.
Loucks was never spectacular, but he was a steady senior who knew the offense and defense and been in all kinds of situations. In fact, by the time he left, Luke Loucks was FSU's all-time leader in number of games played with 136. Obviously that kind of experience takes time to replace. SG Ian Miller started the season off filling the void at PG, but that experiment appears to have lasted all of 1 game as true freshman Montay Brandon and Devon Bookert played a combined 38 minutes at PG in the second game. Both guys are more talented and athletically gifted than Loucks, but again the experience is severely lacking.
Bernard James has been replaced by...well he hasn't really been replaced, at least not yet. Juco transfer Kiel Turpin (Mel Turpin's son) is the starting center and he is offensively gifted, but despite having three 7 footers on the roster, none are ready to replace James' defensive presence at this time.
3. South Alabama was a modest 17-12 last season, and FSU lost to the Jaguars in the season opener. What happened?
It was just a total team loss. The better question would be what didn't happen. FSU beat USA 80-39 last year and came in over-confident and thinking about the ACC Championship banner that was raised before the game. Okaro White then picked up 2 fouls in 90 seconds and the Noles just couldn't ever get anything going. USA benefited from returning almost their entire roster and getting 10 extra practices in Canada before the season, and clearly looked like the more prepared, mature team. They shot 60% from 3 (9-15) and made 25 free throws. As mentioned above, Devon Bookert's injury forced Ian Miller to play PG and neither he nor Michael Snaer ever got on track, combining to go 4-18 with 7 turnovers. Then, when the Noles finally tied it up at 69 apiece with under a minute to go, the fouled a 3-point shooter with 1 second on the shot clock and the Jaguar made all three. After the game, Hamilton made no excuses and simply said they didn't play well enough or hard enough to win the game.
4. The Seminoles have recently sent Chris Singleton and Bernard James to the NBA. Is there anyone on the roster who seems to have a decent chance to land on an NBA roster?
After this season? Ian Miller and Michael Snaer would be the best bets. Miller has been listed high on some mock drafts since the day he signed. I don't see him as a first round pick currently, but he is certainly athletic enough and a good enough scorer. Snaer will get drafted--his defense is just too good to pass up--but how high he is drafted will depend on whether or not he can mimic his ACC Tournament performance that earned him MVP honors last year. Okaro White has appears to have made a big leap from his sophomore to junior year, but to really get a shot in the NBA he probably needs to add more weight.
After that, FSU has a bevy of talented newcomers who will likely get NBA looks down the road, but nothing serious this year. Montay Brandon and Aaron Thomas are both highly rated freshman who have NBA size and Kiel Turpin, Michael Ojo, and Boris Bojanovsky go 7'0, 7'1 (290 pounds!), and 7'3 respectively so they all might have shots at some point.
5. Florida State has reached 20 wins in six of the last seven seasons and has won games in the NCAA Tournament. What seems to be this season's expectations as far as win totals and ACC finish?
This is the question every Nole fan has been asking. Right now two things are known:
1. Due to our youth we are very much a work in progress.
2. We have more talent and basketball skill than we have had in a while.
Even in our most experienced years, Hamilton's teams typically start slow and get much better as the season progresses and Ham's rotations shrink. Last year FSU lost 5 OOC games, including Harvard and Princeton, before rebounding and winning the ACC (The official ACC Champ is the ACCT Champion). This year that trend looks to magnified even more considering we have 7 newcomers seeing playing time and a freshman starting at PG. The defense is no where near a top 15 defense right now and the offense, while having more scoring options than any time in recent memory, has stretches where they look like...well freshman.
Michael Rogner predicted 21-10 and 11-7, while I went with 22-9 and 12-6. However, both of us envision early season struggles (in fact we warned about the matchup against South Alabama in our preview) and feel that we will be much better in March than now. If I had to make a prediction I would say anywhere from 3rd to 6th in the ACC, but talented enough to win the ACC Tournament again if all the pieces come together the way Hamilton hopes they will.
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Much thanks to Matt for helping us preview Florida State. Make sure to visit Tomahawk Nation for more on the Seminoles.